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eLaw - Center for Law and Digital Technologies

Working groups at eLaw

The purpose of eLaw's Working Groups is to stimulate a productive working environment for cooperation within the Center for Law and Digital Technologies at Leiden University.

The members of the Working Groups work together to advance the research on specific topics within law and digital technologies, including regulation and governance, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Each working group has an annual plan of different activities that range from co-writing papers, organizing lectures, network drinks, feedback sessions, or joining efforts to obtain funding for carrying out societal-oriented projects. 

If you would like to know more about a specific Working Group, click on the tabs below:

Goal and focus areas

Robotics and Autonomous Systems is an interdisciplinary Working Group at eLaw dedicated to advance the understanding of the legal, regulatory, and ethical implications of robots and autonomous systems.  

Our work focuses on four core domains:

  • Robots and embodied technologies
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Algorithmic profiling and decision-making
  • Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency

Motivation

The integration of tangible and virtual elements in cyber-physical systems is growing. Autonomous cars, surgery and rehabilitation robots, smart home appliances, toys, and natural language processors are just a few examples of technologies that increasingly interact with humans in private, professional, or public settings. Public administration and private corporations also use algorithms to automate decision-making processes that affect and condition the life of citizens and users. These systems unleash opportunities that only seemed far-fetched a few years back: they provide the ability to automate, monitor and control infrastructures that are critical to modern life, such as power plants, and production processes; they effectively manage city resources, reducing traffic congestion, pollution or optimizing the air condition; or empower users with reduced mobility in healthcare settings. Robots are present at homes, schools, or care facilities embodied as dolls, companions, customer assistants, pets, or innocent speakers blurring the line between the cyber and the physical world. 

Due to the novelty of practices and impacts, the development of technology may bring about unclear rules and areas of legal ambiguity. In other words, there might not be an immediate applicable legal rule or precedent to a particular use or development of technology. The exponential growth of supercomputing power, the ability to store and process large quantities of data and improve the performance of the Internet do not seem to facilitate either way the reaction capacity of society to face the problems arising from the use and development of technology. These factors altogether hinder the identification and addressing of the ethical, legal, and societal issues (ELSI) associated with the use and development of technology by governments and public regulatory bodies, who struggle to catch up with technology (r)evolution.

The working group

The purpose of the group Robotics and Autonomous Systems at the eLaw Center for Law and Digital Technologies is to create a productive, creative, and supportive output-oriented working environment to advance the research on the legal and regulatory aspects of robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, algorithmic decision making, smart toys, expert systems, and artificial agents. 

Our goal is to be at the forefront of the research in the interdisciplinary domain of law and autonomous systems, explore and enrich our knowledge with other colleagues' expertise, and become a hub for forward-thinkers, learners, academics, policymakers, government, and the industry, who want to understand and leverage robots and autonomous systems' impact and potential.

Goal and focus areas

Regulation and Governance is an interdisciplinary Working Group at eLaw dedicated to the regulation and governance of and the legal rules as applied to digital technologies. 

Our work is limited to:

  • The legal rules and regulation/governance of digital technologies

We examine:  

  • Legal rules
  • Regulatory Theory
  • Governance-by-Institution
  • Policy-making

Motivation

There is a steady call for new regulation whenever new technologies enter the sphere of public debate and scrutiny. However, if and when new regulation is introduced, very rarely do the complaints surrounding the new technology dissipate. Take, for example, data protection. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) only came about after five years of tough negotiation and 4000 amendments tabled by the European Parliament. Meanwhile, ‘big tech’ lobbied voraciously to mitigate its implications and even now, more than one year after it came into effect, it is derided as ineffective, confusing, and difficult to implement.

The Regulation and Governance Working Group subscribes to the following precepts:

  • To govern effectively means to weight all the interests and to set out a vision (including standard setting) for any given digital technology.
  • To regulate means to consider all forms of control as well as intended and unintended consequences.
  • When developing a policy for digital technology, it is almost impossible to satisfy every actor with a stake in any given digital technology.

To this end, the Regulation and Governance Working Group will provide commentary and insights on whether any legal rule will be effective. All legal systems that subject human conduct to the governance of rules should be understandable by those who have to comply with them, not be contradictory, and should not be changed too frequently to permit compliance. Thus, the Working Group adheres to understanding and critiquing through application of general principles of good lawmaking from the lessons and failures of previous cyberspace rules. As Professor Chris Reed of Queen Mary University stated in his book Making Laws for Cyberspace, any approach to lawmaking should address human behavior and beliefs, “rather than specifying compliance in precise and detailed terms, can produce a law which is not immediately implausible and which more closely meets the test for quality”. Leaning on theorists like Lon Fuller and Joseph Raz whose principles encompass the requirements of guiding the individual’s behaviour and minimizing the danger that results from the exercise of discretionary power in an arbitrary fashion:

  • Any laws should be prospective rather than retroactive;
  • Laws should be stable and not changed too frequently, as lack of awareness of the law prevents one from being guided by it;
  • There should be clear rules and procedures for making laws;
  • The independence of the judiciary has to be guaranteed;
  • The principles of natural justice should be observed, particularly those concerning the right to a fair hearing;
  • The courts should have the power of judicial review over the way in which the other principles are implemented;
    The courts should be accessible; no man may be denied justice;
  • The discretion of law enforcement and crime prevention agencies should not be allowed to pervert the law.

According to Raz, the validity of these principles depends upon the particular circumstances of different societies, whereas the rule of law generally “is not to be confused with democracy, justice, equality (before the law or otherwise), human rights of any kind or respect for persons or for the dignity of man”.

Today, we are witnessing significant reforms in areas as diverse as the development of the European Union’s strategy for the deployment of artificial intelligence, reform of the e-privacy Directive, a new Digital Services Act to regulate platforms, a new deal for ‘consumer protection’ including a new Digital Content and Digital Services Directive, and in the area of network security; accordingly, now more than ever there is a role for the ‘cyberlawyer’ and ‘cyber-academic’ to help inform rule and policy makers. One of the outcomes against which the success of this Working Group should be measured is whether we successfully engage with traditional jurisprudential models to make ourselves relevant to lawmakers and policymakers in the same way lawyers in other disciplines have done.

The Working Group

The purpose of the Regulation and Governance Working Group at the eLaw Center for Law and Digital Technologies is to further understanding of legal rules (black letter law) and regulation of digital technologies. The Working Group aims to produce better understanding of these legal rules to improve the regulation of and policies for nebulous concepts like artificial intelligence, cybercrime, the Internet of Everything (and Things) and platforms.  The Working Group’s objective is to be at the forefront of research relating to digital technologies, explore and enrich our knowledge with other colleagues' expertise, and become a hub for academics, forward-thinkers, government, industry leaders, and policymakers, who want to understand the governance, institutions, law, regulation, and policy implications relating to digital technologies.

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